Moms have often asked me to suggest reading material for their children, as I have too, to the best of my capacity.
Three years ago I remember asking the children at one of our book club sessions if they knew about a Pakistani girl, their own age, who has been fighting for something that they might have taken for granted; education. When I introduced her to ‘my kids’ there was unanimous interest amongst them to know her more. Some had already heard of her but most of the others were hearing about Malala for the first time. I promised them that I would get them to read the biography that she had written, when she was but only seventeen years old.
The bookstores in India had been a hive of activity, with people wanting to buy ” I am Malala”. Everyone was talking about it. It was no wonder because she had won the Nobel peace prize and more importantly because she had said “I relate to Indian culture the most — from food to clothes — everything is quite similar but more stylish and grand.” .
Aha! but really, why do Indians love her? We love her for the same reasons that she is loved by people around the globe. Its one thing to not want to go to school when you know its your right but quite another to be told you can’t go because you have no right. She was only eleven when she realized that her ideas of a normal childhood was about to change.
She let the world know that she was only a little girl and yet had no choice but to take the responsibility of thousands of other little girls like her. She took a stand , perhaps not understanding the consequences completely, against one of the most feared terrorist organizations, the Taliban. She took a stand, she got shot, she survived, and she still continues to fight for the same cause. She grew bigger than herself.
I bought my ‘updated copy’ not much after she shared the Nobel peace price with Indian Kailash Satyarthi. It was in December 2015 during one of my vacations in India.
One of the revelations I had on reading the book was that even among the violent tribes that followed Pashtunwali ( Pashtuni code),which does not compromise on ‘badal’ (revenge), lived liberal people like her father.
He admired Khushal Khan Khattak, the warrior poet who wanted to unite the Pashtuns. He has modern sensibilities for she says,” My father wanted us to be inspired by our great hero, but in a manner fit for our times – with pens, not swords. Just as Khattak had wanted the Pashtuns to unite against a foreign enemy, so we needed to unite against ignorance.”
There is no doubt that her father has been the backbone to Malala’s struggle. Her connection with her parents undeniably gets the biggest focus in her book. In her own words ‘ they were no ordinary parents’. She values her mother’s role in the family and sees a hero in her father. Her father’s crusade towards education is as commendable as hers. However if he somewhat represents idealism, she propagates hope.
Malala in her book does not hide her teenage quirks. She has an entire chapter titled ‘Praying to be Tall’. Even as she seems to open her heart, you can sense her stoic personality. At thirteen she says, she had a classmate who got married and soon after became a mother. While she studied chemistry in her class, her mind would occasionally wander wondering what it would be like to stop schooling and take care of a husband.
Any young person who has had a trauma or a life changing experience would be able to relate with her.
Malala’s book transports you to Pakistan and leads you through its streets during the reign of the Taliban. It helps you to understand the constant conflict Pakistani civilians had to face. It showcases the goodness in human nature as they seem to get enhanced in tormenting circumstances. Even when she explains the horror, she carefully leaves out gory details.
As if from one teenager to another, the book has a friendly air.In fact, it is an enjoyable read for both parents and their kids. At sixteen, most kids are battling peer pressure, but Malala’s ‘enforced’ wisdom took her to United Nations, where her address to the world, received a standing ovation.
To Malala herself, her book is only a story. She knows there is so much more to her than that. To the millions of others who have known her story, she teaches how to pick up the pieces and start over again. She inspires determination and courage.
” I am still hopeful that I can return to Swat and see my friends, my school and my house again” she says in her biography. After five and a half years, since she was shot in the head and was flown to England, Malala returned to Pakistan amidst fears that she might be attacked again. After completing her education in London, we can hope to see her return to Pakistan permanently, influence the peace process in the region and help to extend her country’s lasting friendship with India.